Readings: Exodus 12:1-14; Psalm 116:10-17; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-15
There are moments of intimacy that colour and direct all of our lives. A moment when your mother really spoke to you, heart to heart! A promise that your father kept! A piece of advice given lovingly by a friend! A word of encouragement from a favourite teacher!
That was the kind of moment that Jesus and his disciples experienced that last evening together. He was alone with them in the upper room. He knew what was about to happen. He knew that this was the last day of his earthly life. He decided how to spend it. He invited his closest friends over. They broke bread. They shared a glass of wine. Then the evening became that moment of intimacy. It would colour life for the disciples forever. They would remember it right down to their last reaction. He took a bowl, a jug of water and a towel. He went down on his hands and knees before them and washed their feet. He washed the feet of each of them, one by one, lovingly and thoroughly.
He told them that he did it to set an example for them. He did it to set an example for all of us. He did it so that we would understand what it means to be a servant. He did it so that we would wash one another’s feet.
Servanthood has a bad name in our modern society. We think of serving others as being menial work. We think of it as some kind of enslavement. Parents experience it. They ask their children to perform a simple task, pick up after themselves, help load the dishwasher, take out the garbage. They are greeted with groans and complaints. “Why me? Why do I have to do everything?”
Why is it that we react so negatively about serving one another? We have a sense that it somehow takes away from who we are.
Luke includes an incident in his portrayal of the last supper that we do not hear in tonight’s Gospel. It is a scene of high drama as Jesus prepares to leave his disciples. He prays for them, worrying about what will happen to them following his death. Then a petty argument arises amongst the disciples. It would be funny if it were not such a tragic moment in Jesus’ life. They argue about who is the greatest among them.
Jesus doesn’t roll his eyes at them. He doesn’t shake his head. He doesn’t chastise them. He serves them. He gets down on his hands and knees and washes their feet. He does what the most menial servant in the household does. In being the servant, he gives them an intimate moment to remember when they get discouraged, or lose hope, or get depressed. At such times surely they remember that evening when he washed their feet and said, “I have given you an example.”
He not only said it to them. He said it to us too, privately, in a sacred moment. God got down on his hands and knees in front of us and shared a moment of intimacy with us. He gave us an example of what we should do to each other, washing each other’s feet, breaking bread, sharing with all of humanity, until he is with us in the Kingdom.
We remember it tonight. We wash feet. We break bread. We share the cup of wine. We offer broken hopes and broken dreams, broken relationships and broken hearts. Here in the bread we offer all of our lives, our joys and our sorrows. We acknowledge our brokenness. We seek to be one with Christ who can make us whole. We seek to be joined to broken people. We share in the servanthood of Christ whose service is perfect freedom. Amen.
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